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Getting Rich Off the Poor

Americans are generous when it comes to charity - about $335 billion was donated last year - and around the holidays is when many charities receive their biggest bumps. But when you donate to your local food bank or shelter, do you ever stop to think about the system that creates the needs for such charities? Or that there are companies making money off keeping people poor, hungry and desperate?

Earlier this year, Brave New Films released the short documentary, To Prison for Poverty, focusing on two companies in Alabama and Georgia who makes millions of dollars off people who can’t afford to pay small fines issued for infractions like seatbelt tickets. That should give you pause right there. How could a company profit from someone who doesn’t have a $41 to readily pay the fine in the first place?

It’s an age-old trick that companies use, and that we consistently find in our investigations. The poor are made to pay small amounts over a long time with insanely high interests rates. The results being that the fines poor people pay become considerably larger than a rich person’s fine for the exact same crime. This came up over and over again when producing Prison Profiteers, our award-winning series from 2013, which showcased profiteering off bail bonds, prison healthcare, prison phone calls, and the prisons themselves.

We run into those questions when investigating our other issues. How do some of those same companies make money off the mass detention of the undocumented? What is the student debt crisis, if not a scheme for banks, universities, and even our federal government to make billions of dollars off people who can’t just write a check for a college education?

There are a lot of people spending Thanksgiving facing extreme poverty because someone else wants to make a boatload of money.